When I saw Vermont-based guitar wizard Tom Pearo deliver a masterful album-release show recently, he made a comment about how I Am A Mountain soundtracked a movie playing in his head. Something in the way he said it made me think he had more in mind than a band’s standard promo line about how cinematic their new album is. Sure enough, Pearo has a very specific story in mind. Think a coming-of-age road journey as told by J.R.R. Tolkien (which I realize basically describes Lord of the Rings, but most of the battles in Pearo’s movie are internal).
Sarah Cutler returned from work one day seething. A man had catcalled her on her walk home – not a new experience, but this one pushed her over the edge. So she turned her rage into a sonic revenge fantasy “Don’t Tell Me to Smile,” performed with her country band The Red Newts on their new EP This Lonesome Town.
Abby Sherman – Hand with the Devil
If the only Satan-themed violin song you’ve heard is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Abby Sherman’s “Hand with the Devil” might throw you for a loop. Rather than rollickin’ fiddlin’, Abby Sherman and violinist Katie Trautz create something truly spooky, like the sort of Gillian Welch track you don’t play in the dark.
When I first heard Ben Patton and Michelle Sudarsono’s new album Our Follies, I assumed it was covers of old showtunes. I don’t follow the musical-theater world closely, so the fact that I didn’t recognize any of the titles didn’t strike me as odd. Titles like “Take Her to Hear Some Jazz” and “If They’d Had Flappers (Back in Shakespeare’s Day)” don’t exactly leap out as modern. I figured these peppy and polished songs were just slightly deeper cuts by Cole Porter or whoever – he does have another song about Shakespeare, after all.
Charlie Hill’s band Bison was one of the best new post-punk band of recent years. But since their untimely demise last year, he’s moved onto other genres. His solo project Chazzy Lake looks forward – while looking much further back.
Adam Rabin – The Other Room
You’re going to want to sing along to “The Other Room” after a listen or two – but I wouldn’t. The sketches of plot offered sound like a sci-fi family dystopia, a Black Mirror episode for children.
The Cheyenne Brando – Samsonite
So thoroughly does Endtime Hymns evoke certain bands that one begins looking for echoes everywhere. Is the title “My Jean Sebring” a nod to David Bowie’s “Jean Genie”? Does “Poisonhead” reference ABC’s “Poison Arrow”? Was “Privacy of Lucy” inspired by The Cure’s “Pictures of You”? Each connection a greater stretch than the last, and likely none intentional. Christian Hahn does explicitly cite the heyday of post-punk and new-wave in his bio though, and, sonically, the comparisons are everywhere. His next song might as well be titled “Bizarre Love Triangle Will Tear Us Apart.”
“Baby” is not a song title that implies much backstory. For instance, here’s how Justin Bieber explained what inspired his hit of the same name: “I’m basically saying I really like this girl and would do anything to make her my girlfriend.”
A lot of thought and a lot of living went into Vermont singer-songwriter Francesca Blanchard’s new song “Baby” though. The simple name masks some complicated feelings. She says she wrote it after returning from five months in Ecuador hiking and teaching guitar. A relationship that started shortly before she left had fizzled in the meantime, and her return precipitated a “quarter-life crisis.”
The opening notes of Erin Cassels-Brown’s new album signal his Dylan-goes-electric moment.
A former street busker, Cassels-Brown has spent the last few years building a reputation around his Burlington, Vermont home as a folk singer and guitar-strummer around town. But on Dreamin’ on Overdrive, he joins the long lineage of former folkies who plugged in and amped up. While it’s hard to imagine Pete Seeger swinging an axe to cut the cable, it shows Cassels-Brown deliberately shaking off his local acoustic-troubadour reputation, and opening himself up to a broader national audience.
In a career spanning 25 years, Ezra Oklan has played with everyone from Nicole Atkins to Ambulance LTD, toured opening for The Killers and the Black Keys, and graced TV studios from Conan O’Brien to Carson Daly. Throughout, he could always be found at the back of the stage, drumming (check out this killer live performance of Atkins’ “The Tower” for a taste).
Now, in his new band Matthew Mercury, the sideman becomes a frontman for the first time. And not just that, but this veteran of a million Americana, indie-rock, and jazz bands steps out front with a new genre: post-punk. Despite the other sounds on his resumé, he’s not a newcomer to the genre.
In addition to County Tracks, I oversee another site all about cover songs. Vermont band The Smittens made our year-end list in 2016 with a cover of a short-lived band I’d never heard of called Go Sailor.
On their new covers collection Stay Gold, The Smittens cover a number of artists like Go Sailor: pioneers and peers in their chosen genre, which sometimes is termed “twee-pop” (not everyone loves the “twee” moniker, but The Smittens include it right there on their website). They also twee-ify a few songs from very different genres, including The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” and, in an old studio recording getting its first ever release here, the Oasis classic “Live Forever.”